Hands on with iOS 6: Mail

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Minor Improvements

Some of our favorite new Mail features are the kinds of little things you could easily miss. For example, if you tap-hold Mail's new-message button, you get a convenient screen for choosing one of your saved drafts; tap a message to continue working on it, or tap New Message to start a brand-new message.

When viewing a message, it's now easier to mark it as unread, and to apply or remove a flag, thanks to a dedicated Flag button in the toolbar at the bottom (on an iPhone or iPod touch) or top (on an iPad) of the screen. In iOS 5, this functionality was hidden behind a Mark link located in the message headers--and that link was itself hidden unless you'd chosen to view the full header details.

Speaking of headers, another minor useful tweak is that you can now see--in small, gray characters--the recipients of a message, even if you've chosen to hide header details. In addition to being helpful when viewing sent messages, this is also useful for incoming messages by letting you see whether you were the primary recipient or a CC or BCC recipient.

If you and the people you communicate with are fond of top-quoting (a.k.a., bottom-posting), where quoted material is placed at the top of the message and your reply is placed at the bottom, iOS 6 Mail helpfully collapses, accordion-style, much of the top-quoted text, making it easy to read the latest lines.

Finally, if you've got an email account that supports message archiving (Gmail, for example), you can now choose, on the fly, whether to archive or delete a message. While viewing a message, tap-hold the Delete button, and you'll get a popover menu listing options to Delete Message or Archive Message. Just tap your preference for this particular message.

What's missing?

Despite its long evolution, Mail still lacks some features you might like in an email client. Among the lingering gaps:

  • Mark All As Read and Delete All: You can tap the edit button in a mailbox, manually mark multiple messages, and then mark them as read/unread or delete them, but it would be great if you could quickly mark as read all unread messages in a mailbox, or, similarly, quickly delete all the messages in a mailbox.
  • Send to groups: It's somewhat shocking that, more than five years after the iPhone debuted, you still can't enter a group name in an outgoing message to send to the members of that group. (Heck, you can't do much at all with contact groups in iOS without downloading a third-party app.)
  • Smart mailboxes: The new Flagged and VIP folders are a great start, but I'd still love to be able to create a few smart mailboxes (or, at the least, to be able to save searches).
  • Local spam filtering: Many people would even be satisfied with better iCloud-server-side spam filtering and a way to designate received messages as spam.
  • More text options: It would be great if you could use additional fonts, force plain-text viewing, and choose top- or bottom-quoting, to name a few minor options.

The good news is that with iOS 6, these remaining major feature requests feel more like gravy than meat: Though it still has limitations, Mail feels more like a full-featured email client. As I said of Mail in iOS 4, the app gets most of the basics right, and it excels at the most important tasks: viewing and composing messages, displaying attachments, and connecting reliably to nearly any e-mail server. In the two years since that statement, Mail has matured significantly, to the point where even power users can be satisfied.

This story, "Hands on with iOS 6: Mail" was originally published by Macworld.

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